Washington journalists were beside themselves Wednesday after President Donald Trump accused a black White House reporter of asking a “racist” question. Trump has consistently called himself a “nationalist.”
PBS Yamiche Alcindor wore a smile while Trump scolded her at the first White House press conference since the midterm elections.
The question, or statement, that got him so aggravated?
“On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist,” she began. “Some people saw that as emboldingly white nationalist. Now people are also saying…”
Trump interrupted her, saying, “I don’t know why you’d say that — such a racist question.”
She kept going. “There are some people who are saying the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of that rhetoric.”
Trump replied, “Honestly? … Let me tell you, that’s a racist question.”
The Washington Press Corps was floored.
“I don’t even know where to start with that,” Dana Bash remarked on CNN Wednesday afternoon. “It makes no sense at all.”
Bash said Trump made the whole situation worse by calling the question “racist.”
CNN’s John King agreed, saying, “He knows that word [nationalist] has baggage.”
PBS’s Judy Woodruff sprinted to her coworkers’ defense. “My @NewsHour colleague @Yamiche is a complete professional, an utterly fair and hardworking reporter,” she wrote on Twitter. “She did not ask a ‘racist question.'”
American Urban Radio‘s White House correspondent April Ryan appeared on CNN Wednesday afternoon to talk about Trump’s reaction to Yamiche’s question. “I was in the room and was taken aback by him saying it was a racist question,” Ryan said.
“This president said he was a nationalist … Yamiche asked a real question because there is a concern about saying he is a nationalist. He is a white man who is a nationalist. There are people who are concerned this is code for ‘white nationalist.'”
Ryan said Yamiche is now left with a “residue of hate.”
Al Jazeera English‘s News Editor Jeffrey Ballou was another outraged Washington reporter.
“The President’s stunning treatment of several colleagues including @Yamiche @AprilDRyan @Acosta and @PeterAlexander may be free speech, but beyond the pale of respecting the constitutionally-enshrined role of journalists,” he wrote.
Mother Jones‘ National News Editor Mark Follman praised Alcindor for her question and her behavior.
“Kudos to @Yamiche here also for her 100 percent professional conduct in the face of Trump’s odious response to her legitimate question about rising white nationalism,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is how it’s done.”
PBS’s Sara Just expressed support for Alcindor on behalf of the network. “We are all so proud of @Yamiche and support her and all reporters’ right to put fair, serious questions to people in authority,” she wrote.
Stiff Jab’s Gauthum Nagesh, who previously worked for WSJ and The Daily Caller, added, “We need more reporters like @Yamiche who are willing to ask the tough questions.
Soraya McDonald, the culture critic for The Undefeated, resurrected the late Gwen Ifill, who was a longtime anchor at PBS. “The accountability feels like ‘reverse racism,’ Gwen would be so proud,” she wrote.
The praise came rushing in for the scolded PBS reporter. “This is the Trump ideology in a nutshell: Being asked about racist language and actions – especially by a woman of color – is the new racism,” wrote NYT‘s Dana Goldstein. “Well done, @Yamiche.”
Some journalists were at a loss for words over what they watched.
HuffPost‘s Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen wrote, “The way Trump is treating black reporters is… whew.”
Like Polgreen, The Daily Beast‘s Sam Stein seemed like he couldn’t find language for what he heard: “Trump accusing @Yamiche of asking a ‘racist question’ is something.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director of NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, remarked, “This is appalling. Just appalling. But I encourage you to watch it. I salute you @Yamiche for your composure and professionalism.”
Even reporters who didn’t come right out and express dismay over how Trump treated Alcindor seemed to do so in their descriptions.
There’s NYT‘s Peter Baker: “Trump lectures @Yamiche for asking if his campaign rhetoric has emboldened white nationalists. ‘That’s a racist question,’ he scolds her, jabbing his finger at her.”
New York Mag’s Olivia Nuzzi said, “It was a perfectly fair and important question about the perception that he sympathizes with nationalists and white nationalists.”
WaPo book critic Carlos Lozada reduced the president’s behavior to that of a child.
“His answer to @Yamiche’s question was basically ‘I know you are but what am I?'” he wrote.